A child’s garden OF GRASS

10 reasons lawns are good for the environment

There was no place for this in the Earth Day supplement. My argument in support of grass in the front yard is far outside the conventional wisdom, and good people will question my bona fides. But it’s an argument that I’ve dared myself to put in print for as long as my desire to cover the Earth in green carpet has collided with my lifestyle as an environmental crusader.

I like lawns. And more than that, I think lawns are better for the environment than some of the other choices people make for landscaping the area in front of and behind their homes. But I’m only talking about responsible lawn ownership. People who let their irrigation run into the gutter, taking their fertilizers with it, should be severely reprimanded. People who overuse herbicides and insecticides ought to be similarly spanked. We should sick the greenies on them.

Anyway, here are 10 reasons why I prefer a lawn to some types of xeriscaping or rocks or bare soil. I’d also like to note that I’ve recently gotten rid of a good chunk of my lawn in favor of a lower-water-use plan, but I didn’t do it because I think it’s wasteful to water a huge lawn; I did it because watering was too expensive.

1) Reduces heat in the house: I once lived in a house that had a red lava rock yard. On one side of our six-foot picket fence was grass, and on the other was that heinous lava rock. A tall person could reach over the fence and feel a temperature increase over the rock of at least 10 degrees during the summer. Rock picks up heat and radiates it all night long (and yet it doesn’t seem to exude warmth in the winter). In my current home, I don’t own air conditioning; I don’t need it. Because of my grassy lawn and its cool evaporative properties, my house doesn’t need air conditioning

2) Reduces dust in the house: Grass holds the soil down. So does the water used to keep grass nice and green. In the summer, a house that doesn’t use air conditioning must have the windows open at night. A lawn keeps dirt where it belongs: outside.

3) Uses water in a non-harmful way: OK, this is where some environmentalists and I part company concerning grass. We’ve known for a long time that there was going to be a limiting factor to the cancer-like population growth we’ve been experiencing here in the Truckee Meadows, and it was either going to be air quality, land availability or water availability. As vehicles and air-filters have gotten more efficient, our air has actually gotten better even though the population has increased. Remember those “inversion days” back in the mid-’80s where you couldn’t see the tops of buildings from the streets? I don’t think bad air is going to limit the population of Northern Nevada.

It seems every time I turn around, land that I and my neighbors used to own through the federal government (Bureau of Land Management) is being turned over to private interests, like land developers. I’ve never seen a dime from these sales, and it seems there is no limit to what the government will sell, and the developers get to suggest what the government sells.

This leaves water as the limiting factor. We can’t add more people to this community without having the water to support them. Why has the city adopted water meters and mandatory watering days? To enable the growth that would eventually decrease the quality of life here in our beautiful little valley. Want to close the door behind you? Use the water that’s in front of you. Water is a renewable resource; when it’s put on a lawn, it will make it back to the atmosphere through evaporation and will eventually return to earth in the form of rain or snow. It’s only wasted if you allow it to run into gutters and back to the river without getting a benefit.

4) Keeps me trimmer: Somebody’s got to mow this lawn, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay someone else to do it. To keep with the theme: More natural resources are required to transport Fat Brian.

5) Reduces population: Again, if you put your water on the lawn, then there’s less water available for Johnny-come-lately to put in his toilet. Of course, since lawns are big users of water, you can expect them to become illegal when it becomes convenient for the developers and their government pawns to make them illegal. I don’t mean to be repetitive, but you have to pay for the water you use, so you really have to be committed to this concept—unless you’d prefer giving a tax-deductible contribution to one of these non-profit groups that are working to limit population growth in the Truckee Meadows.

6) Reduces pollution: Grass reduces pollution in at least three ways. 1) Just by nature of being a plant, grass helps remove, trap and hold particle pollutants (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) from the air that can damage human lungs. Grass absorbs gaseous pollutants through its respiration. 2) Because of the cooling and dust-decreasing effects, I don’t have to run the air conditioner (as mentioned), and I have to run the vacuum cleaner less. That means less pollution created producing electricity that I won’t use. 3) Once again, the more water you and I use, the less is available for all these people who will move into town. The fewer people there are here, the less pollution there is.

7) Pulls us into the environment: Many of us fell in love with the environment in our own backyard. Can you imagine playing football or baseball on one of these rock fields that pass for a yard? No wonder some kids never get outside to run around—they’ve got nothing to run around on. The rest of us get to go outside to mow or trim or play Frisbee with the dog. And that’s not even to mention all the birds and insects I give succor to by having a good lawn. And the birds and insects are part of the environment, are they not?

8) Promotes community: How many barbecues can you honestly say you had on your rocks-and-bark, low-water-use backyard? If you aren’t outside mowing, what reason do you have to stop your yard maintenance in order to have a conversation with your neighbor? And who ever heard of rock darts?

9) It smells good: What can I say? I like it. Go smell a rock. Next to making love on a blanket on a soft bed of grass blades, the smell is the greatest tangential benefit of a lawn.

10) Reduces global warming: Grass, through its ability to trap pollutants and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride and silicon tetrafluoride, ozone, methane, nitrous oxides and chlorofluorocarbons, has a positive impact on the global warming—at least in comparison to a rock or bark lawn, which neither filters particulates nor traps gases. Since lawns cause a reduction in electrical use (vacuums and air conditioning), they reduce the amount of electricity we need generated by coal or gas power plants. Since I can play Frisbee at home, I don’t have to drive to the park to play, which reduces my fuel consumption, pollution and carbon footprint. Of course, if my lawn mower didn’t use gasoline, I could feel wholly righteous.

OK, there you have it. Let those with rocks in their heads begin their attacks. I’m not afraid. If an angry crowd of environmentalists gathers on my front lawn demanding my blood, I can always turn on the sprinklers.